It’s once again pledge time here on the northern plains. Our local public radio outfit is doing their quarterly hat-passing which, of course, as a sustaining member (meaning, they get an automatic donation from me every month without fail) I totally acknowledge as a critical imperative.
I’ve been listening to pledge drives for more than half my life now. The worst were when I lived in Brookline and someone at WBUR thought placing a phone with an actual ringing bell in close proximity to the microphone so you could hear your fellow listeners calling in…at 5:45 in the morning…was a great idea. Nicely done. From the “more annoying the better” school of thought, no doubt. I even volunteered a few times to man the phones for my local station (back before you couldn pledge any other way). A lot has changed, but a few things haven’t.
Pledge drives go on too long and totally suck.
As I recall, they used to say on my local station (though they don’t anymore for some reason), “If everyone who was going to pledge all pledged right now, the drive would be over and we’d go back to our regular programming.” But that doesn’t happen. EVER. Nine times out of ten, the drive goes right up to when it was planned too because those public radio bean counters are really good at that kind of thing. They do it for days. On an on.
And I kept thinking, what if we had the technology to stop hearing the pledge drive as soon as they got my pledge? Or for sustainers such as myself to never hear the drive in the first place? Because it’s radio, the first mass electronic media, and what I described isn’t possible. But a lot of the time, I don’t listen to public radio on the radio. I listen on my phone. I stream it.
So here’s my idea. Add account authentication to the app (i.e., let me sign-in). Once recognized and identified as a sustaining member, let me listen to a different stream. One without pledging. Not special content because presumably whenever someone local is talking, there’s an NPR story they’re not playing instead. So play me that. Then switch back to the local stuff after the pledge break.
This is totally possible. I’m not talking science fiction here.
Personally, I’d only make this feature available for sustainers because those are the members public radio wants the most. Nice, uninterrupted cash-flow. But, they could also make it possible for those who pledge through that app. Instant upgrade. The only real issue to this in-app pledge idea is that Apple would want their regular 30% cut. In that case, make the iOS users do it on the website. Problem fixed.
This would totally change the pledge drive dynamic. Right now, a huge wall of people wait until the very end because they know there’s no reason not to. They get no benefit pledging on day one because they have to listen to the whole pledge drive anyway. In fact, their procrastination might actually be rewarded if they never get around to it and the drive ends. But with the alternate pledge-free stream option, the faster you act, the faster you can avoid the horrible pledging monotony. There’s a real, tangible and immediate benefit to pledging. They really could end a pledge drive in a day.
This does, of course, penalize those without smartphones or computers (the alternate stream could also be fed though the station’s website). But those people are fewer and farther between than they used to be and would totally benefit from the shorter drive like everyone else.
In any event, it seems to me this must be something someone at some radio station somewhere is working on. If not, why not? Why are pledge drives still run like it’s 1974?